September 15, 2020

Understanding Story Structure

Unless you have an Oscar winning story with the world’s greatest dialogue, great structure is going to be essential along with some traditional conventionality. If the story has no real structure, what change will take place, how will the character arc and what value will the dialogue have? Just like themes enhance genre, nailing structure within the world and demographics of your story is essential. At least having a broad understanding of it will certainly help. Not every chef wants to repeat the same great dish, they want to create their own or give something existing a good spin “give me the same thing, but only different”, but that chef must still have to understand the process involved of great cooking. The measurements of salt, how much yeast, eggs or ingredients to bake that dish, what temperature, for how long. Without knowing that, you’re heading for a disaster.

Even if you have a great story, structure would still be a very important factor and there are hundreds of optioned scripts that are canned in the Production stages because the structure is “iffy”, even once the scripts have been sold. It’s one thing to sell your screenplay, it’s another to see your film on screen and to have it remembered for decades or at least for people to like it. There are some screenwriters on the other hand that frown upon a formula or structure, such as Tarantino, but let’s admit it, that’s a single opinion and not everyone is a fan of his movies. I am a fan of convention and before structure, there’s the elements of your story and genre that you have to get right. I strongly suggest you read the Genre article because genre components are strongly linked to structure.

We will also look at “structure genre” in this article which will be different to the previous articles. I am studying a masters degree in screenwriting and have important information to share, so let’s delve in. We may also trickle into physics at times, one of my strongest fields. I have to tell you that this is a very detailed and complex article, however I am going to focus on the structures that I write and the movies that I enjoy, which are typically 3 and 4 Act story structures. These are also the most popular structures. To get an insight on others, watch the video below.

3 Act Story Structure or Traditional Structure

Syd Field was amongst the first to lay down the conventions of 3 Act Story Structure as Setup or Exposition, Confrontation and Climax or Resolution. I strongly suggest you study his work. This 3 act system goes back to ancient times and Aristotle’s dramatic theory as detailed in Poetics. In ancient times, story was about conflict, as is life.

1- something bad happened (this was setup to introduce us to this)
2 there was progress, (the character(s) went on a inner and outer journey
3 there was a conclusion or outcome to that story (confrontation was made inner and outer and changes happened)

So essentially not a lot has changed in the last few thousand years, nor in life and nor in story and the same can be said about every Tarantino movie ever made. It still has these three parts, as does life and essentially every story. Even stories that are not about change, handle change in some way and we’ll go into that later. Everything has a natural rhythm and pattern from creation to destruction, balance to imbalance, chaos to order, negative to positive. True story structure also has such rhythms and patterns otherwise it is not story. The problem novices make is thinking that they understand 3 act story structure but they don’t understand clear defined turning points that change the direction of the story and this is something that we are going to study in 3 separate movies. Turning points and movements in story direction, tempo and pace are considered as more plot than structure. We are going to look at structure, themes and the metaphysical construction of the story.

As a writer it’s also important not to get too bogged down in structure to start with, just like the dialogue article, it shouldn’t be a focal point in the initial stages, which is why I’ve posted these articles in a specific order. What is important is to get the essentials down of your story. Everybody has one to share and again, it should be something congruent to yourself, your story. This is the only story that has value and to quote Robert McKee, it’s one that has be told in godlike detail. Which other story will you know, if not your own. I don’t mean write a biography of your life story verbetam, but the main themes and elements of the story should be something you have a deep understanding of. To be totally creative, you could start by noting down your entire story condensed down into three pages.

If you chose 3 acts, a page for each act, however, just because a car has wheels, a frame and engine, it doesn’t mean it’s going to start and drive away. The main components of the story have to be well connected and working, otherwise the story is not going to be effective. It’s not going to be kinetic and move and a good structure story has to move, otherwise it won’t move the audience. The word “connection” implies structure like legs to a table or the frame of a house. So in conclusion, a story must have structure and nothing less than great structure. I have to admit when someone tells me to recall a great movie, a Tarantino one is the last one that comes to mind. Just as our brains are more alert to conflict and fear as a story component, our emotions and thoughts are also primarily linked to a movement of acts and specific things that happen in those acts. Specific things such as taking responsibility or the ‘call to action’, having a ‘false defeat’ or ‘victory’ and then finally the ‘climax’ which can be different in two stories that are the same to start with. Story is moving and it’s also dynamic. How many movies have you watched where you wished they ended differently. And what about those ending that were satisfying? Well these are the ones that are closer to convention, because it works.

Let’s look at Syd Field Systems for a moment. Movies such as The Negotiator, The Fugitive, Lethal Weapon, Die Hard and Instinct have all been worked with Syd Field’s structure system if we look at the Crime genre for a moment. You’ll also be surprised in how many movies follow Blake Snyder’s outline, extremely surprised. It’s a lot and that means something. I would say around 90% of all great movies have a 3 act structure and most of the above movies mentioned have popular sequels.

Before you think of your idea or film as a screenplay, you have to think of it as a story. Some great films have been adapted by nothing more than a 1 page short story that encapsulated great elements of a story to be brought to life and in this article we are going to study three true stories to see why conventionality was chosen. The writer seen something in the story and they worked the plot so that he or she could bring a compelling idea forward.

Another mistake that novices make, and I’ve done this myself, is to not connect the beggining, middle and end of a story to form a unified whole, in which each action follows the principle of causality. For example, Rod and Shiela have an argument over which movie they’re going to watch, Shiela wants to watch a Will Smitch movie and Rod just wants to watch something with quality, regardless of who’s in it. Rod storms out of the house, revs up the car and drives away. Shiela always starts with him over something trivial, he’s monologuing out loud “divorce” Rod gets pulled over by the cops for speeding and his license is already maxed out with points. Rod ends up loosing his driving license and his job and faces much inner and outer turmoil. Shiela becomes supporting of her husband and he’s home all the time and spends more time with his wife. What was thought of as a defeat is actually a victory because their marriage is saved and they both sit there together and watch a great movie for the conclusion. That’s a corny idea, but each action and reaction leads to the other. So cause and effect. Being a technical engineer and and a scientist, I am lucky, because I’ve always thought this way.

Plot vs Structure

They are two separate things, the same as 3 acts is not the beginning. middle and end, each act merges components of a beginning, middle and end. You must have an entire story (beginning, middle and end) in an act for it to turn well. Instinctively every movie I’ve ever written has been written in 3 acts or 4 acts and we’ll look at that later because I used to think such movies were written in 4 acts, not 3.

Plot and Structure are interlinked but plot is more the sequencing and movement of events or pinnacle turning points in the story. How your story turns is what’s going to get it noticed and how visceral that is to the overall story. Structure is very cleverly linked to the development of the character, the inner journey and outer journey. Crisis or that ‘catalyst’ or “inciting incident” usually initiates one of the first stages in the story plot. But character arc is not an event, this is the mistake that novice screenwriters make. The development of character and structure must be woven into the plot otherwise the two won’t bind and you’ll have a disjointed story where plot and structure will oppose or “fight” with one another. Plot and structure must gel together perfectly. See the Character Design article.

Another common issue is that most stories fall flat in the middle, or are tossed in the garbage because Act 2 is bad. A movie really is about what happens in the final 20 minutes or the last Act. As a simple task note down what your three favorite movies are in the genre that you wish to write. Before doing this task, ensure that you have read the Genre article. Write down how these three movies end, plot out the final sequence on paper and then beside each movie, write down how the final stage or Act made you feel. Remember the META – Mood, Emotion, Tone and Atmosphere. This is also translated into the “controlling idea” or “cognitive effect”. Okay, now you’ve done at least two, how do you think the writer and Producers achieved this cognitive effect? By making sure they designed Act 2 or the middle of the story effectively to “pay off” the final Act in the most effective and satisfying way. Probably 80% of all screenplays fail to do this effectively and that’s why so many people keep repeating and watching the same great movies over and over again, because there’s a lack of great movies out there. That’s also the reason why we see the same story vehicles as “remakes”, but the same structure template has been used over and over again.

Is 3 Act Structure Actually 4 Act Structure?

I’ve thought about this a lot, and this is where we delve into the “nitty gritty” of Act 2. Act 2 has two parts, so technically a 3 act story is actually a 4 act story. In Vedic knowledge (my heritage), we class the Universe into 4 major cycles, Age of Truth, Age of Doubt, Age of Ignorance and Age of Darkness. We are in the 4th age today. In fact the planets and solar systems go through similar cycles, but that’s an article for another website. But this is all connected.

We’ll look at this in more detail in the Story World article, but let’s look at the Inner World and Outer World. We all have both. Writer’s, artists and creators, typically live in the inner world. One that hasn’t changed or one that they cling onto, whilst the external world goes through turmoil, changes and pandemics, we cling onto what drives us on the inside. And because we hang onto the innocence of our inner world by “fighting”, there grows the imbalance and “chaos” of the outer world. The infamous “character arc” occurs progressively as we either adapt, learn by it or “come into essence” by realising our past or experience or even wound is our greatest asset. A false belief is overcome by coming to accept something is true and that the greater truth is greater than us.

The Plotline is the External World, The Situation, Actions – Dialogue and Physical Journey that comes as a result.
The Themeline is the Inner World, The beliefs or Wounds, Intentions/Subtext and Psychological journey that comes as a result. Naturally when something happens in the outer world, something also happens in the inner world. This is also Vedic interestingly. The entire cosmos is within the creator’s dream, the movie ‘Inception’ comes to mind. The closer scientists look at matter, it resembles mind. Anyway, enough of this.

It’s within the themeline that we see a psychological metamorphosis for the protagonist or the hero. This is what’s referred to as the character “arc”. In most movies this arc ends with a positive charge.

This looks like disfunction or Disunity, Deconstruction, Reconstruction and then Unity again. Ergo, something is fixed in the process. This “fix” is the change or the “arc”. This fix comes with either a revelation, a change or adapting, learning something, accepting something or doing something out of the ordinary. Some stories can exhibit a combination of these. To fast forward a little, Ramanujan comes to accept something, John Matthews adapts and Eddy Edwards does something out of the ordinary. You’ll know what all this means by the end of the article.

Michael Hauge’s System

There’s been plenty of theory in this article. Let’s now look at THREE very DIFFERENT movie stories to see how they fit into various story and structure models. Note here, we are now focusing on movie structure and not story structure.

Movie 1 – The Man Who Knew Infinity

So we are going to study a Drama, Biography, and True events Action movie and also a True Events Sports movie to see just how prevalent formula is in the film industry. I have deliberately chosen true events movies because they should bend away from fiction, meaning the works have been made more creative and appealing to story structure and story techniques that have been tested for thousands of years.

The Man Who Knew Infinity – Running Time – around 100 minutes – Divided into 4 is 25 minutes per Quarter

Opening Credits and Visual Image
The work of Ramanujan

Act 1

Hardy played by Jeremy Irons at Trinity College writing a letter about Ramanujan stating he had a romantic incident. Then it cuts to India, a great man who invents himself. Taking from his writings – Hardy’s.

Ramanujan has been writing his own mathematical equations. He states that he needs a job and that he has a wife. During the British rule. British think he’s a lunatic as do the Indians. He takes water and baths himself. He states he doesn’t have any degree. He meets Sir Francis and he states that his accounts need to be as polished as his ego. He comes home with his wife.

Ramanujan does math in his head without an Abacus. His wife is sleeping alone. He’s given an idea of England by Naraya. He’s married to his work. His wife comes for him. He can see something in numbers as though they are living. He sees numbers in everything and in nature as patterns. He states that all he does is imagine. He’s an Indian and there’s a chance for the rest of the world to see what he can do.

15 minutes in, they are talking about Trinity College. Somewhere where Isaac Newton was. Hardy reads his letter, from a Hindu Clark challenging the knowledge in the Gamma functions. They think it’s a joke. Hardy looks into the letter after realizing it’s not a hoax. Hardy writes and calls for Ramanujan to come to England.

20 minutes in and Ramanujan is talking about going to England. He’s a Brahman and has to cut his hair and he’s also going to cross the sea. His mother is very unhappy and he’s decided to go to England. She blames his wife. He tells his mother and wife to look after themselves. 24 minutes in and he meets John Littlewood. He’s taken back by Cambridge. Littlewood tells him that great knowledge comes from the humblest of origins. The lecturers at Trinity College are all stating that there are no proofs and Ramanujan meets Hardy.

Act 2

Ramanujan is shown to his room. And he finds paper to write on. Ramanujan has been told to get off the grass, “it’s for fellows only”. He’s told to attend lectures and Hardy states he needs proofs. Ramanujan states he’s there to publish. Littlewood states a “dark face” won’t grace the walls of Cambridge. He’s eating and it’s none vegetarian. Hardy knows something is wrong.

In class Ramanujan is not taking notes on a formulae. He completes it and the teacher is embarrassed. The teacher tells him to get out. 37 minutes in and Hardy knows that the lecturer berated Ramanujan. Hardy tells him intuition is not enough. Hardy gives him good advice and tells to learn the proofs and attend his lectures, that he’s a genius, but still has to prove how he got the answer in his workings out. It’s a little bit like this article, you still need to learn the structure and form of screenwriting, even though your art form comes to you naturally. Hardy tells Ramanujan that you have to leave a legacy. It took a long time for Newton to be proved. It’s funny because Ramanujan was also a Brahman and so was Aryabhatta who found gravity 1500 years before Newton in India.

Ramanujan does his work because he sees it as truth and has has to share this mathematical truth with the world. It’s 45 minutes in when Ramanujan states he knows the formula for partitions. Hardy tells him that he’s hard on him for a reason. He states that he doesn’t know how to do the steps.

50 minutes in and England is at war.

Act 2-2

Ramanujan’s wife goes to the temple to see the work of her husband. It’s marked all over the floor. His mother does not post the letter, she puts it away.

55 minutes into the midpoint and Ramanujan is jumped and beat up. It’s here where his inner conflict turns into outer conflict. He’s called a WOG – which is normally what they called Chinese people (Western Oriental Gentlemen) when he’s beaten. Ramanujan has to cook his own food on a fire and he’s very annoyed here. He was trying to make soup. Hardy now faces conflict because he’s helping Ramanujan to get published. The college are turning against Hardy because the council feel that it’s a privilege for Ramanujan to be there and they are keeping him. As usual, “system breakers” like Ramanujan are disrupting people’s programmed belief systems.

60 minutes in and Littlewood has gone to help with Ballistics. Littlewood sends a letter to Hardy telling him Ramanujan is the same level as Newton and Hardy is pushing Ramanujan more stating that he needs proofs. For the Act 2 rising climax Hardy discovers that Ramanujan has given up his wife in India to go to London to be published and exactly on the one hour mark the scene turns exactly as per conventional structure.

Ramanujan discovers here that he has Tuberculous. They are at a funeral which is a visual image that sets up the death of Ramanujan. This is when we talked about making Act 2 setup the final stage or Act 3 properly as a pay off. Hardy now tries to get Ramanujan involved with Major McMahon with partitions. He gives him a challenge whilst the Indian is dealing with his health. Major McMahon is going to do it by hand. The fun and games start late here and Ramanujan is trying to calculate partitions. After this Ramanujan ends up in hospital and it’s revealed that he has TB to the audience.

For the Act 2 Climax bombs are going off and Ramanujan sees some people get blown up. He believes that he’s being punished because he has crossed the sea which is against his religion. His wife asks whether he has wrote and he hasn’t she prays and feels that he has forgotten her. The conflict here intensifies. Hardy tells Ramanujan as they are on the verge of cracking partitions.

Act 3

Hardy speaks to council board of Trinity College as he’s put Ramanujan up for a Fellowship at 76 minutes into the movie. Later he’s been refused the Fellowship in the following scene and Hardy comes to tell him that his fellowship has been denied. Ramanujan is glad that Hardy has told him.

It’s here that he coughs blood and is having hallucinations and exactly on 1 hour and 20 minutes Ramanujan’s collapsed and Hardy has discovered that he has tuberculosis. Hardy thinks that he may have died and Ramanujan feels responsible for his condition that he’s left his life to pursue his ambition. It’s also 1 hr 21 minutes that he tries to kill himself by jumping in front of a train. Even for a true events movie, the story has been manipulated to make it entertaining for film, which just shows the importance of conventionality. It’s a tested system that doesn’t fail. And i’ll show this again with a completely different movie that has been based on true events.

Hardy tells Ramanujan that he should have told him that he had TB, he could have helped. We see the irony of Hardy pushing Ramanujan to bring the best out of him and the Indian man battling the dilemma of being in a country that’s alien to his race and culture. 1 minute and 25 minutes and Ramanujan reveals to Hardy that an Indian deity speaks to him and puts formula’s onto his tongue. This is interesting because the decimal number system and the concept of ‘0’ both come from India. There’s more to the story of Ramanujan that’s been revealed in this film. It’s interesting that this all happened around the time that the British were in India and likely branded all of this knowledge as their own. It’s around here Ramanujan is handed a letter from Hardy, his mother has been hiding the letters she has been attempting to send and not posting them, fearing that she will lose her as well as her son.

1 hour and 30 minutes into the movie, Ramanujan has cracked the formula for partitions. Hardy is requesting that Ramanujan becomes a fellow again through Major McMahon. Ramanujan becomes a Fellow and to contrast this his wife discovers all of her letters are being hidden.

For the final sequence Ramanujan is elected Fellow and is now returning home to India. He hasn’t told his wife that he’s coming. A year later and Hardy gets a letter, but it’s to notify him that Ramanujan has died. Hardy feels privileged just to have known him. For the aftermath, and there is one, scenes are shown of Ramanujan’s family. The film is 100 minutes long, or 1 hour and 40 minutes.

I’ve also mapped out this movie under Blake Snyder’s 15 Beat System and it fits like a glove.

In conclusion there’s something important about film structure here, and i’ll call it film structure and not story structure for a moment. The movies has been organised in a way to make it more interesting and entertaining. We know what we’re going to get and if this structure wasn’t used we would have been disappointed. It’s like ordering Indian takeaway that’s been cooked without spices. Like a recipe the planning, movements and structure is essential just like any main ingredient.

To summarize we have seen Ramanujan’s inner world play out into the outer world. His thoughts, his knowledge and his mind. Equations that scientists are using today from 100 years ago to study the behavior of black holes. He under goes his own metamorphosis of coming to realize that the modern world is blind, not only to his ideas and notions, but to not having the ability to see deeper than the physical. Ramanujan faces much prejudice, a major theme in the movie, along with belief and perhaps god. It’s a culture clash, but also a struggle between intuition and process. He’s like an engineer, like an Indian surgeon, and see’s numbers in an eccentric metaphysical way as truth, embedded into everything. Today, someone with a fraction of his ability could be a world leading scientist in molecular/particle physics. The film speaks more than we can understand, it has a subconscious art form. Ramanujan is like a super hero, he doesn’t change, but causes others around him to change. When their inner world changes, so does their outer world.

Joseph Campbell Structure

‘The Man Who Knew Infinity’ is a brilliant movie because it ordains to the movements of Joseph Campbell’s a Hero’s Journey. I believe this was planned and intentional. Ramanujan was definitely an extraordinary person, just like Newton or Tesla.

Ramanujan starts in his ordinary world in India, and goes to England, his world of Adventure. His New Situation is taking his call to adventure. He meets Hardy his Mentor but discovers the things from his world won’t cut in his new environment. The hero faces many inner and outer battles, physically and psychologically. When Ramanujan has to provide the proofs and learn the western way of thinking about mathematics, he goes through the DECONSTRUCTION process and movement. The stories midpoint is the TRANSITION. Events happen that test Ramanujan and he provides brilliant proofs and undergoes a RECONSTRUCTION. Ramanujan becomes fellow of the college and returns to India, resulting in UNITY, but also his death. The ultimate Unity and Infinity.

Ordinary World – Ramanujan’s Living In Madras, India
Call to Adventure – Mr Hardy invites Ramanujan to England
Relucant to The Call – Ramanujan is crossing the sea, which is against his religion as a Brahman
Meets The Mentor – Ramanujan Meets Hardy
Enters the New World. First Threshold – Ramanujan has to prove himself, how does he know this. He has to make his own food as he’s a vegetarian. Something frowned upon 100 years ago in the west.
Tests, Allies and Enemies – Ramanujan has to provide proofs but Hardy is helping him be better, he’s called a “dark face, “blacky” and “charlatan” by members of the college.
Approach In Most Cave, Second Threshold – Ramanujan is published but is beaten afterwards and is called a hoax or “charlatan” by the college.
Ordeal – Ramanujan has to crack partitions but also contracts tuberculosis. He also thinks his wife has forgotten him.
Reward – Ramanujan becomes a Fellow of Trinity College and his works are fully published.
Road Back to The Ordinary World – He returns to India and his family
Resurrection, Third Threshold – Ramanujan dies but his formula’s and published works are reveered.
Return to Elixir – Ramanujan returns with his god, the “giver” of his knowledge and to infinity.

What’s also interesting about this story and in correlation to this article is that movie’s themselves also have a mathematical formula that works. Ramanujan was intuitive, but he also had to reverse engineer and provide proofs. He was an artist of form, but also had to study convention.

Movie 2 – Snitch

So we’ve looked a ‘fool triumphant’ biographical Drama where Ramanujan was setup as the underdog because he was Indian. ‘The Man Who Knew Infinity’ was also a Super Hero movie, not like your Marvel, but he was an extra ordinary hero that caused change to the New World. We’ve also plotted those movements to the Joseph Campbell system. We are now going to look at another Heroic True Story under the Action and Crime Genre.

Snitch – Running Time – around 105 Minutes – 25 minutes per Quarter

Act 1

The opening image is with Jason speaking to his college friend. He’s speaking to him via the internet and trying to get him to take drugs to distribute them. The next scene is with Jason’s father John Mathews played by Dwayne Johnson on the phone running his haulage company. They are in their ordinary world, Jason and both his mother and father have been introduced in the first five minutes not to forget Daniel James who is a new worker in the company.

In the next sequence Jason Collins signs for a package which is the drugs when the DEA break into his home to seize the drugs and arrest him. John is with his second family and has remarried when he gets a phone call from Silvi his first wife notifying him that his son has been arrested.

Jason has been charged with distribution of narcotics and he is facing a minimum sentence of ten years in prison. John is blaming his son for not having enough responsibility. 12 minutes into the movie and Jason is being asked if he can snitch on someone. The police are trying to get him to set someone up. His father tells him that he’s not going to let him spend the next tens years of his life in prison. His father tries to put sense into him that he should snitch on his friend, but Jason says he’s not going to.

15 minutes in and John goes to see Joanne Keegan a Federal prosecutor played by Susan Saradon. She believes in the mandatory laws of stopping the trade of drugs. She tells him that they need Jason to help them make arrests. John goes to see his son and it looks at though he has been beaten by an inmate. This is set up on the 18th minute as the ‘inciting incident’. His son tells him that he wasn’t planning on selling the drugs, he just took the package because his friend told him to. His father tells him that he’s going to get him out and that he has to trust him. This has potentially been set up as the catalyst for change because he tells his son that he’s going to get him out of jail.

22 minutes into the movie and John goes to see drug dealers after researching if he can reduce his son’s term in jail. He tries to get something recorded, He is jumped and beaten and they leave him. This ends at 25 minutes and is the Act 1 Climax as he goes to se the DA again. This time Susan Saradon tells Johnson, she would need an air tight arrest of someone in possession of narcotics. A setup is made here where Johnson tells the audience he’s in the construction business and he may know someone.

Act 2

The Act begins with Johnson looking through the job applications of the people who work for him. He finds Daniel James, who has a criminal record for narcotics distribution. This takes the story in a new direction and is exactly as per 3 act story structure conventions. Johnson asks Daniel that he wants an introduction, and the scene turns with him offering 20k from his original offer of 10k. The stakes are high here for both of them. Daniel is trying to get his life back in order. This is foreshadowed with a scene after this where drug dealers are talking to Daniel’s junior son. He wants the drug dealers to stay away from his son. When Daniel’s at home his wife has to go to work, this sets up the need for money. Daniel contemplates this offer of 20k.

In the next scene Johnson finishes work and Daniel is outside waiting for him. He’s took the call to action. The stakes are raised here because Malik the drug dealer can kill Johnson. It’s only the relationship Daniel has with him. Johnson comes in and doesn’t know what to expect, before he even talks- a gun is pulled on him. Malik tells him that he’s going to drive the first load. Malik tells Daniel that he has to get back into the business. Daniel is resistant because his next jail sentence will be life.

42 minutes in and it’s on. Johnson is going to take a load of drugs in his trucks whereever Malik tells him to. At the end of 45 minutes and midway to the first part of Act 2, Johnson is saying goodbye to his second wife and daughter. It’s been setup to create danger as the conflict increases through the story and sets up for the 60 minute mark nicely.

Act 2-2

53 minutes in and the drugs are loaded into bags of cement and there is a mini war taking place between two drugs gangs. Fire breaks out and Johnson and Daniel escape with the drugs and their truck. El Topo tells Malik that they can use this driver again and things went well. Malik is pleased. Johnson is now going to deliver the drugs in his pickup and not as planned. Johnson has to make a call to the police and Daniel sees that he’s in his office on the phone.

Things have gone well but at beginning of the second part of Act 2, around 60 minutes, the sequence turns from the positive to the negative. Daniels pulls a gun on Johnson and tells him that he will kill him after he suspects the Johnson has made a phone call to someone before the drop. Johnson tells him it was his wife. The scene builds up as they go to make the drop. This time Daniel suspects something and sees a car following through his rear view mirror.

As another turning point in the plot, the police don’t intercept and let Malik go. Johnson is shocked. Now it’s far from over and Johnson likely has to do another drug deal. To further take the outer conflict into more inner conflict, John’s current wife, Mrs Matthews has discovered that he’s been trying to help the police to reduce his son’s sentence.

110 minutes into the movie and Daniel discovers that John is going to the police station. Daniel follows him. John discovers that Jason was assaulted and needs 36 stitches. John discovers that he’s a dead man. Daniel tells him. When Daniel returns home, his wife has found the 20k John gave him. She knows something’s going on. Everything gets complicated now and the stakes get higher.

Act 3

75 minutes into the movie, John has been invited to make another introduction, but this time with El Topo, the king pin who controls most of the drug deals in the Mexican region. The Act turns from negative to something being more positive if Johnson can help the police bust him. The hands have changed and Johnson works for El Topo now.

John meets the Federal Prosecutor (Saradon) and they discover that he has seen El Topo. The stakes become higher and there’s more to lose now because this time they are using John to transport the money and not drugs. It’s likely that they will kill Johnson after the run. Mules are a dime a dozen.

John goes to see his son and the police officer that checks him in takes his name as Matthews, but know tips off one of the cartel members that John has a son in prison under the name of Collins. 1 hour and 30 minutes into the movie and John goes to see Daniel. This time they have to come up with a plan of their own.

For the final stages of the move and Act 3 climax, Johnson is looking at weapons. Him and Daniel have made a plan. This hasn’t been disclosed as exposition. Johnson switches trucks so that the police don’t have a position on Johnson’s location. He picks up the money and wants Daniel to get the number of El Topo from Malik. Just as things are going in a straight forward fashion, the police officer snitches and tells the cartel that John Matthew’s son is in prison. Now everything has gone to shit. El Topo gets a call and is informed. Daniel takes out a few of Malik’s men to get the number of El Topo. It’s a crazy gun battle on the highway and the police make their arrests.

1 minute and 45 minutes into the movie and John’s son is released and the movie ends. To summarise, the turning points and act sequences as well the positive and negative charges have been written with conventional structure. This movie was very entertaining.

Snitch is ultimately a family movie about people and what they do under pressure. It’s obviously ‘A Dude With a Problem‘ with a hint of ‘Golden Fleece‘ and a movie about true character coming from choices in dilemma. It explores themes of crime and justice along with courage and loyalty with “life being precious” as an undertone. Unlike Ramanujan in ‘The Man Who Knew Infinity’, John Matthew undergoes a huge metamorphosis, from a respected business man, to a mule for transporting drugs. Blood is thicker than water. In contrast whilst Ramanujan is suppressed and ignored to a degree, his ability remains. For John Matthews, his dilemma of seeing his family fall apart due to his son’s ten year prison sentence forces him to risk everything to put things right. He could care less about his ability as a businessman, this is more primal, this is about his son’s life.

See the Blake Snyder Plot for Snitch attached below. The page count is a little off, but the pattern is the same.

Dan Harmon’s Story Circle Structure

  1. A character is in a zone of comfort – John Matthews is running his haulage company.
  2. But wants something – John has to reduce Jason’s sentence
  3. Enter an unfamiliar situation – John has to snitch and have an arrest made for distribution of narcotics
  4. Adapt to it – John is doing well as a snitch and now has the chance to get El Topo
  5. Get what they wanted – The entire cartel is arrested and Jason is released.
  6. Pay a heavy price for it – John is almost killed more than once and is seriously injured in a vehicle accident
  7. Then returns to a familiar situation – Jason returns to his family and they all unite
  8. Having changed – Jason and John didn’t see eye to eye to start with but gain that mutual father and son respect for one another

Snitch could also pertain to Joseph Campbell’s model and in my opinion, this model is just Campbell’s condensed and reworded but it is more congruent to the character and not the world. Modern characters are not necessary archetypal as in older times. This is why Dan Harmon’s model has become so popular. It forces one not to think of your story as Acts, but as long as these various “stages” can be met. This story circle can also be used for each Act. As you will start to realize, there are patterns in stories, and despite what model is used, thought of or even studied afterwards, they are all similar. You have to first define the genre and themes and then work with those to enhance the story. The physics is the same, that cannot change, but the techniques used depend on the material. A domed roof on a temple is not built the same way as a pitched roof on a house, but it’s still a roof and serves the same purpose. Let’s not get into the physics of domes.

Movie 3 – Eddy the Eagle

Now let’s delve into another true story but this time in the Sports genre. This is another fool triumphant called Eddy the Eagle with comedy elements. All three movies are from the last decade and all three conform to classical three act story structure and it’s conventions along with Michael Hauge’s system and Blake Snyder’s beat pattern. This also pertains to entertaining story formula, which is about the known to the unknown, requiring a metamorphic change – deconstruction, reconstruction to gain unity.

Eddy The Eagle – Running Time – Approximately 100 Minutes, 25 per Quarter

Act 1

The opening image starts with a young boy holding his breath under water. This is Eddy Edwards in London, 1973 and his leg is in braces. He’s pleased with himself as he’s beaten his past record of 1 minute and 58 seconds. The scene turns with his father tells him to come home. Such dreams of being in the Olympics will drive him mad.

5 minutes into the movie and Eddy is older, maybe a young teen and the brace from his leg has been removed. He’s training, running, jumping and is constantly breaking his glasses. He throws a javelin rod which breaks the window of his parents house. His father is angry and tells him to come to work with him. He’s a plasterer. His father tells him. “Eddy, you are not an athlete!”. There’s an ice skating slope next to his father’s work place and Eddy gets it in his head that he’s now going to the Winter Olympics. Eddy is fearless, he tries on the skies and takes a descent down the slope.

In the 3rd sequence and 7 minutes into the movie Eddy is a young man and has won several trophies for skiing. It’s here where we are introduced to the antagonists or force of antagonism which are those who constantly remind Eddy that he’ll never be good enough. In this case, it’s the governing body in England for the Olympic games. Eddy is told that he won’t be selected as a candidate for the 1988 Olympic games trials. This is when Eddy is told he will never be Olympic material. Eddy’s father tells Edwards it’s not exactly a career. His dad wants him to be a plasterer.

11 minutes into the movie Eddy Edwards decides that he wants to be a ski jumper. It’s around here that Eddy discovers that Britain don’t have a ski jumper for the Olympic games. 15 minutes in and Eddy reaches Germany where is he going to practice for the Olympics. Because Eddy doesn’t look the part, the colleagues competing for the games seem to make fun of him. Eddy has no money and has to sleep in the store room of a coffee shop.

For the 20th minute Eddy tries the 40m jump and falls, luckily he’s not seriously injured. He replaces his broken ski’s and plods on with more practice jumps. He tries the 40m jump again. 25 minutes and for the Act 1 climax Eddy doesn’t stop falling on the 40m jump through a montage of scenes.

Act 2

This is where he meets Bronson played by Hugh Jackman who will coach him. 28 minutes in and Bronson refuses to help Eddy. He was an Olympian and broke a record for USA one time. The scene turns when the number two in the world ski jumper falls during a practice jump. This makes Eddy contemplate what he’s doing. Everybody is telling him he’s not good enough.

35 minutes in and Bronson does the 90m jump to show Eddy how it’s done, whilst he’s drunk. He teaches Eddy a few basic things. Eddy takes the 40m jump again and this time lands it well. Eddy wants Bronson to see him do the 70m jump now. Bronson tells him that he’s not ready for it and it takes the average jumper 4 years to practice for it.

Around the 40th minute mark Eddy takes the 70m jump and this time falls badly. He’s broken several bones and ends up in hospital. This is well into Act 2 and it’s here around the 45 minute mark when the sequence turns where Bronson decides that he’s going to help Eddy because he knows he’s not going to quite until he’s succeeded. Eddy is doing everything that Bronson was taught, he’s trying his very best and this is something that Bronson has forgotten. Eddy is going to learn how to land and Bronson is going to teach him. Bronson teaches Eddy how to land and he lands perfectly during the 70m jump.

Act 2-2

Everything turns again at the 52 minute mark into the film. The rules have been changed by the British Olympic association and now Eddy has to jump 61 metres to qualify. Eddy feels he has a right to represent Britain as the record holder. He is declined without any real reason. This sequence turns at the midpoint and 55 minutes mark when Eddy is going to Germany again to try to re-qualify. He’s taken his father’s van and money from his mother to have another go.

The fun and games start late in the second part of Act 2 with Eddy training to jump for the 61m landing. Around the 59th minute mark Eddy lands at 43m, which is a personal best for him but it’s still not far enough for him to qualify. On the 60th minute, Eddy Edwards qualifies with a practice jump at 61m. The sequence turns on the second jump when Eddy falls and then turns again five minutes later when the commission have counted Eddy’s practice jump.

110 minutes in and Eddy arrives at Calgary in 1988. 75 minutes in and Eddy sets a British record with a jump at 60.5m. This is the start of Act 3. The scene turns a few moments later from the positive charge to the negative when Eddy is mocked because the competition doesn’t really “start” until the 90m jump. This feels like the all is lost moment for sure and it’s at 116 minutes.

Act 3

Eddy tries to go for dinner, yet there’s not a table reserved for him. 118 minutes into the story and Eddy is interviewed. The fans loved him and want to know more about him. Eddy is becoming famous.

The dark night of the soul is at the 80th minute mark when Bronson tells Eddy that he’s just a side show for the Olympic games over the telephone. Things go from bad to worse. Around 122 minutes and Eddy tells everyone in the press that he’s going to jump the 90m. This is when Bronson joins Eddy at Calgary. Eddy makes his final jump in the movie of 90m at the 1 hour 33 minute mark and sets a new world record for Britain. The movie finishes at 1 hour and 40 minutes. That’s 100 minutes and 4 quarters is 25 minutes for each Act and Act 2 is 50 minutes.

In summary all three movies follow exact 3 Act story structure and many conventions of Syd Field, Robert Mckee and Michael Hauge. ‘The Man Who Knew Infinity’ and ‘Snitch’ particularly follow the Blake Snyder Model. ‘Eddy the Eagle’ is slightly different.

‘Eddy The Eagle’ is not about a man’s great ability like Ramanujan, nor is it primal and about the dark world of drugs and crime like ‘Snitch’, it’s a classic ‘Fool Triumphant’ and ‘Golden Fleece’, about a young man’s sheer determination to succeed (theme) and despite his inabilities and doubts from others, such as his father, he cannot see himself fail. Nobody believes in Eddy but himself and he wants to prove people wrong. We find this same pattern in ‘The Man Who Knew Infinity’. In all three movies that we’ve looked at the characters venture from the known into the unknown, traditional to story architecture. This either creates change in the character or their world, or both.

See the Blake Snyder Beats for Eddy the Eagle attached below.

Essentially It’s All The Same Thing

Syd FieldMichael HaugeCampbell/ HarmonVoglerBlake SnyderJohn Truby
3 Acts6 Stages8 Movements12 Steps15 Beats22 Steps
Various Stages In Plot and Structure


Relate the beats of the movie ‘Eddy The Eagle’ to Christopher Vogler’s 12 Steps on Structure as shown below.

Christopher Vogler’s Take on Structure

How Michael Hauge’s Six Stages Fit with 3 Movies

We’ve broken down 3 separate movies (The Man Who Knew Infinity, Snitch and Eddy The Eagle) into 3 Act summaries and also placed them into Blake Snyder’s 15 Beat system. Now let’s see how the three movies we’ve looked at in this article pan out through Michael Hauge’s Six Stages.

The Man Who Knew Infinity


Eddy The Eagle

Genre Structures

What are the most lucrative movies?

It is evident that certain criteria, such as slasher movies, horrors have particular appeal. Have you noticed that 7 of the below movies are typical horror movies and combine very primal elements of fear, death, violence and survival. These movies prove to be very popular in the Genre and the cinema and they pertain to certain genre structure. The majority of these, at least 5 are all monster in the house.

See the Blake Snyder Genre table here.

Top 20 ROI movies of the past 70 years up to 2012

The above movies have gained the most ROI – return on investment. See the figures below.

This is fairly old data, taken from my masters degree material, however in the last decade the Super Hero genre has over taken everything with Marvel and the franchises of Avengers.

#1 – Two-Part Structure – The story is in 2 `parts’: i.e. “Before”, when everything is `going well’; then disaster strikes; and the 2nd part is “After” – when everything goes badly for the hero/s due to `the disaster’. (Note the similarity to Aristotle’s 2-part structure of ancient Greek plays. Not that ancient Greek plays are movies.)

#2 – Villain Protagonist: the villain `acts first’, and “drives” the story – and the hero is constantly reacting to the villain’s actions (and/or their outright attacks on the hero/s).

#3 – Villain Triumphant – the Villain / `story-protagonist’ either: 1) wins (ie the hero either loses, or, dies), and/or 2) escapes justice, and/or 3) at the very least: escapes. (This is in 17/20, and arguably, all top 20 RoI films.)

#4 – No Character `Arcs’ – By the film story’s end the hero/s has not undergone a `transformational character arc’; if anything they are just even more like they were, at the start of the story.

#5 – The 3 Primal Themes – 1) Life & Death, 2) Family/Community, and 3) Justice/Revenge. In other words: all very “survival of the `fittest’”.

#6 – Present Day – the majority of the Top 20 RoI Films (17/20) are set in the Present Day (relative to when they were made). This is logical as period pieces and future stories are (usually) more expensive.

#7 – Temporally Linear – No `parallel narratives’ (like say Rashomon, or Pulp Fiction, or even reversed time like Memento, etc). As cinematically wonderful as those non-linear story structures are (I would suggest those three films are uncontested masterpieces) the structure of the top 20 ROI Films, is just plain: Linear. There are narrative ellipses (eg Starting with the Backstory: 30 Years Prior, as with Halloween and Friday The 13th), but otherwise the films are linear. The assumed exception is Primer but, as a time-travel story, it is actually linear.

#8 – A Love Story – This is not in all 20 (it is absent in The Blair Witch Project). But is in the majority (19 out of the 20). So include a love story in your High-ROI Film Story, if you wish – but it is clearly not essential for a Top 20 RoI Film.

#9 –  Be a Writer-Hyphenate – all 20 of the top 20 RoI films, the Writer (and conceiver of the Story) was involved in production (as Director, Actor or Producer, etc), and, did not simply provide the Story/Screenplay and then `step aside’ during production/further story development. Note also how this also correlates with DK Simonton’s finding in the excellent Great Flicks (Simonton, 2011) – whereby, overwhelmingly, the writer-director is more successful in realizing a quality (award-winning) cinematic vision. (Is this an argument for auteur theory? Yes, but only in the case of Writer-hyphenates with this empirical Top 20 RoI study, and, in the case of Writer-Directors in Simonton’s empirical study. Classical auteur theory posits the director as the `Author’ of the film. Contrapositionally, this new knowledge positions the Writer-hyphenate as `the primary author’ of the Top 20 RoI Films.)

Can you think of a recent very popular movie where the writer was involved in Production, Directing and Acting? A Quiet Place.

We’ll study ‘A Quiet Place’ in another article. I am looking forward to the sequel.

Advanced Task

From the 3 Movies we’ve looked at in this article, which one maps closest to John Truby’s Paradigm as shown below?

Can you also take your favourite movie and use Blake Snyder’s 15 Beat system as I have done to see how the scenes and acts turn? Can you map out your favourite films with that model and how many of your films fit that? I’d like to see comments below.

So in conclusion to this large article, which for the most part focuses on 3 Act Story Structure and conventionality, we’ve discovered that story itself must have some form of model and structure. We’ve seen that 3 separate movies separated by a decade conform to multiple systems, 3 Act, Michael Hauge’s, Joseph Campbell, Blake Snyder and Christopher Vogler’s systems. This doesn’t mean that you should design your movie around a particular formula, but formula does provide understanding into form and art. There are plenty of movies that hit all of the beats and plot points, but they are boring and not interesting to watch. You have to engage your audience with something valuable to say, something that resonates truth. Something related to who you are and your story. What you must do is find your story and then use plot and structure to make the telling more engaging and entertaining within the parameters and principles of story.

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